Sydney College of Divinity

Truth and Freedom through Sound Critical Analysis and Careful Argumentation

Presentation Abstract

Gill et al. grouped identified eight domains of generic skills and attributes. Next, they listed 53 tasks and methods that might guide learning and assessment. Finally, they ask academic departments and individual staff members to consider nine questions that arise from their analysis.

These questions include:

  • Do the assessment tasks from the first to final year of the course steadily progress in complexity and demands (sic)? 
  • Do the assessment tasks connect and build upon the previous task(s) . . . .  across units? 
  • Are students exposed to an appropriate variety of assessment modes and types across the course? 
  • Is there an appropriate balance between assessment types and practices to allow for formative and summative feedback?

This paper will not attempt to address all these issues. However, I draw attention to them to emphasise the importance of taking a course-wide approach to assessment. 

Within this broad scope, I focus narrowly on one generic domain: “Thinking critically and making judgments (Developing arguments, reflecting, evaluating, assessing, judging)”. Then, I narrow the focus to consider only two of the nine assessment methods they list: essay and book review (or article) for a particular journal.

I take this approach because I have what can only be called a “hunch” that theological colleges rely heavily on assessments that focus on reflection. Furthermore, even when lecturers call for critical essays, students tend to write academically correct essays that express what they understand to be the “taken for granted” theologically correct views that are consistent with the doctrines of their particular college. In other words, students do not critically examine arguments and theories that run counter to the opinions they suppose the markers hold.

If my hunch is correct and in keeping with the theme of this conference, there is a danger that theological education is an instrument of ideology, an instrument of indoctrination. I will point out that sound critical analysis and careful argumentation are ways of freeing students from ideology and indoctrination. Through sound critical analysis, students find the truth and learn that “the truth will set you free”. However, I explore this thesis in the context of Gill et al. I emphasise that there is more to theological assessment than essay writing. Departments and colleges must ensure that assessment tasks address the questions raised by Gill et al.